Black Adam Review

Black Adam
Black Adam

What does it take to be a hero? Black Adam, DC’s origin story about a super-violent anti-hero, asks the question; that’s why it is boring and yet trying to answer it in its action scenes.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson stars as an ancient powerhouse exploding into today with the worst mood and many flashy lightning effects, but unfortunately not alone from long ago. The entire film feels like it was made decades ago before superheroes became so popular in films and none of Hollywood’s wisdom from The Dark Knight or Iron Man is contained within it. Overly expositional dialogue clunks up the works; the villain is flat, there is too much emphasis on appearance over character development and plot. Some glimpses of originality do appear throughout, thanks largely to some members of Justice Society running interference for him: nonetheless Black Adam by far fizzles out.

In fact, it had started off with plenty of potential. This run of JSA comics featuring Black Adam is one of DC’s all time bestsellers because they revealed how even the most upright heroes were forced to re-assess what constituted right and wrong due to his violent sense of righteousness. Even though these specific comic books are not directly adapted here, there seems to be something about them that filmmakers want to capture. This makes superhero morality the central theme around which this story rotates; hence there is a great deal about heroes and villains as well as good versus evil and murdering instead of showing mercy, only for the argument to deteriorate into confused nonsense. At this point nobody really knows where anyone stands on that issue or why.

Johnson interprets Black Adam much like Arnold Schwarzenegger did Terminator 2: stoic/soulless killing machine catches a glimmering humanity plus sense of humor at times. He gets high marks for making his version of Black Adam as indomitable and frosty-eyed as he appears in the comics, but he comes across as too self-assured and unbeatable. He’s pigeon-holed this way when there are obviously more facets to the character.

Aldis Hodge plays the role of Hawkman, a member of the Justice Society who is adamantly against his violent methods. The veteran hero looks amazing with his glowing wings and animated mace, but his character is woefully underwritten. Hawkman has one of the most convoluted backgrounds in all of comic books so it would be understandable if authors didn’t want to delve into alien reincarnation mythos for another character’s film, yet at least a foundation could have been set for what drives him in his quest for justice along with compassion.

Instead Hawkman becomes an object both literally and figuratively that someone can punch. Much of his time on screen is spent being beaten up and then he spends the rest trying to change Black Adam into being like any other ‘hero’. Inadvertently making himself look bad by aligning with a morally bankrupt mastermind; also he doesn’t know how to respond when people from a war-torn nation ask why they were never saved by their so-called heroes’ team.

Additionally, this movie fails to be serious about Black Adam and Hawkman’s argument over whether killing villains is morally right as it often uses humor from the absurdly brutal ways that Black Adam kills them in addition to the fact that premiere heroes like Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman have killed in the DCEU before.

There are ups and downs among the rest of the Justice Society. A charming yet mysterious Doctor Fate is played by Pierce Brosnan but whoever wrote this script tried to do too much with him in just two hours of screen time. Atom Smasher and Cyclone are recruited to assist Black Adam however Noah Centineo and Quintessa Swindell had instant chemistry as two young budding heroes who don’t really have an effect on plot. This is a pity, especially for Centineo because his Atom Smasher was earnestly engaging more than any other hero in this ensemble. Most of the others simply explain either their backstory or how they came upon a MacGuffin.

Black Adam has too many events happening inside it- a poor blend of several elements. The movie tries to include its main character’s origin, four members of Justice Society, three relatable human characters, as well as a villain all within one film which seems very ambitious. Many of these aspects feel underserved due to what seems like an excessive amount of action scenes.

It’s possible for superhero movies to be driven by action especially if they feature characters similar in power level to Superman. However, when we see such types of actions being repeated such that we only witness countless PG-13 Mortal Kombat Fatalities by Black Adam on anonymous henchmen; then it starts losing its appeal. After around four scenes where he mows down scores upon scores helpless villains whose deaths seemed inevitable anyway I wondered why did we need some sort ‘‘Black Adam kryptonite’’ during act 1 yet none of his adversaries ever thought about using it later. It would have been more engaging if he had to battle an enemy instead of tearing them into two pieces while in half.

The Justice Society has also had many fight scenes. When Cyclone conjures her beautiful twisters, these darlings of nature give the film some much-needed vibrancy. However, Doctor Fate’s powers seem all too similar and hence it is a pity that his visual identity was not made to be more unique from what we have seen with Marvel’s Doctor Strange in Avengers: Infinity War.

Moreover, this Black Adam movie completely ignores the fact that Shazam is intrinsically linked to this character – their powers are the same, they transform using one word and even share the same lightning bolt logo – to talk about how Superman has rivalled him several times instead. With a second Shazam movie on the way and Superman on indefinite hiatus following Justice League (2017), that’s a hell of a decision.

In summary

Because Black Adam overdoes it, one cannot even enjoy the DC anti-hero’s first appearance. It has characters that do not grow and too many similar action scenes so that its half-baked argument on heroism is lost in a cacophony of sound. However hard it tries to make lightning strike twice, Black Adam never quite catches fire.

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